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What's @ all about

Originates from Italian wine merchants

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Computers, in their modern non-Charles-Babbage form, may only have been around for a few decades, but some of the terminology has been with us much longer.

Historians in Italy have traced the origins of the @ symbol back to a Florentine merchant, writing in 1536, acording to The Guardian. Giorgio Stabile, professor of science at La Sapienza University, claims that he has unearthed the earliest known use of the symbol in a letter documenting the bounty contained within a ship arrived from Latin America.

@ was originally used as shorthand for "amphora", a measure of capacity based on terracotta jars used to transport grain and wine in the ancient Mediterranean world. Stabile said the sign had made its way along trade routes to northern Europe where we turned it into the "commercial at."

Stabile is convinced that older documents containing the symbol still exist. "The oldest example would be of great value," he told The Guardian. "It could be used for publicity purposes and to enhance the prestige of the institution that owned it," he enthused. We're not sure about that, but each to their own.

Despite its rather dull title in the UK and the US of "commercial at", other nations have found more colourful monikers for it. In Spain, for example. it is known as arroba which means a weight of six gallons. The Italians refer to it as a snail, and elsewhere it has been dubbed the elephant's trunk, a monkey's tail and even a cinnamon roll. ®

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